So why the obsession over humility? Why do I think it is so important to our faith? When we embrace our brokenness (or to paraphrase Nouwen, when we realize we to are just a bleeding beggar at on the side of the road and begin to wrap our sores one wound at a time so that we might be ready to serve others) things change. Here are the things that are changing for me:
To be clear…these are things that are changing. I have in no way arrived. This is what I struggle with now that I didn’t before I began focusing on humility.
My Perspective on Sinners and Their Sin – I used to wield the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” as a sword of justification to condemn certain activities. “I’m not calling you a liar. I simply hate your lying ways.” Or, “I don’t think less of you because you’re a homeless alcoholic. I simply hate drunkenness.” Or, “I don’t think less of you because you are gay. I just believe homosexuality is a sin.” It was a nice little distinction in Christian world that made me feel better; but I can’t with a clean conscience say that I was following through with the whole “consider others better than yourself” side of imitating Jesus.
Thinking back on it I see how ridiculous it was. As if sin is some tangible thing I can hate. As if it is some blob of nasty smelly ooze rolling down the street. “Don’t get close to that ball of sin Jimmy. It’s gooey and smelly. If you get some on you you’ll have to bathe in tomato juice for a week!”
Struggling with humility, fighting my ego to consider others better than myself, helped me see two things clearly: 1) We were all created in God’s image and therefore we are all beautiful. God’s reflection can be found in every single one of us. 2) We are all already covered in the gooey mess of sin. If you absolutely need to hate someone’s sin, hate on your own for a while. Hate your own sin until it is all gone; then, once you are perfect and have wiped all the crap off your own face, you can pick up some stones and start throwing them at the sins of others.
Seeking humility has called me to embrace a new phrase, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin. Not mine. My job is to love like Jesus.” I think we should drag the “hate the sin / love the sinner” mantra out into the street and shoot it.
My Perspective on Grace – Embracing my own brokenness pushes away any temptation to slide into a “salvation by works” mentality. This mentality is an undiscovered cancer in the church rotting us silently from the inside. We struggle with it more than we would like to admit.
Wait…you doubt this is true? Then why is it when someone doesn’t show up for a church service for two months we worry that they are back sliding? As if going to a worship service somehow refreshes our salvation.
Side Note: For some reason when I start talking about how we focus too much on our rituals and rules people assume I’m talking about Catholicism. I’m not. I’m talking about all denominations without discrimination or bias. I’m talking about our sick need to define ourselves by what we do instead of by who we are.
Scripture tells us that we are all broken and that there is nothing we can do to fix ourselves; but that while it seems hopeless, it isn’t. Beyond all logic Jesus loves us even though we are covered in stinky gooey sin slime. As a believer I used to live in 50/50 land. Meaning that Jesus loved me and saved me, but I also came half way by changing my ways. That’s not how it works. Jesus comes 100% of the way. Life change comes after His gracious gift of salvation is accepted. I couldn’t fully appreciate that until I understood that I was broken beyond my own repair. Only then did I begin to appreciate the grace of God at a new level.
For me the first step to understanding my brokenness and appreciating the grace of God in a new way came from playing with Saint Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. One of the things Loyola demands you do is confess sin, any and all sin, immediately when it happens by placing your hand over your heart and offering a silent prayer of repentance. During your three daily self-examinations you tally all the sins you have confessed since the last examination. I remember starting the exercise thinking, “I’ve got this. ‘Bout to break the record for the least sins recorded in a day!” At lunch I was struggling to remember how many times I had confessed they were so numerous.
My Attitude to Hell and End Times – Talking about Hell and the End Times for me used to be like talking about Greek mythology. There was something intriguing about the conversation. There was a spark of interest. It was exciting. I enjoyed discussing the theoretical possibilities. I used to like hearing debates in seminary about what Hell was really like and what was going to happen in the end times. All the theories and how they came about were invigorating. Once I began to embrace my own brokenness and understand that I am simply a sinner saved by grace (not only saying the words but holding the phrase sacred in my heart) all those conversations became sad for me. I don’t like to talk or think about Hell any more because I realize how much I deserve eternal separation from God. I don’t like to talk about Judgement and the end times because I see where I would be headed if it were not for the amazingly gracious love of God.
I’m not hoping to criticize or shame those that still engage and enjoy these conversations. I simply explaining that for me they took a different tone. They moved from mythical entertainment to the shockingly real.
My Perspective on Ministry Success – As I’ve written before, this one is still very fresh for me and something I struggle with often. Maybe it was because I began my ministry career in a large church or maybe I’m just naturally bent this way. What ever caused it, I’ve always focused on the crowd and not individuals. My primary thoughts have gone to moving groups of people through systems instead of growing with individual people around me. Embracing my own brokenness has torn down the facade of self-importance and helped me understand that greatness is never something I should pursue; rather that service should be my ambition. It has forced me to consider that moves of God are not something started or fueled by the quality of my leadership but rather something exciting to be caught up in, marvel at, and enjoyed.
These are just a few. There are more, but you get the picture. Embracing humility in our efforts to imitate Christ lays the foundation for attitudes of forgiveness, worship, service, and surrender. This is why Paul gives it such importance. It is the first step to loving like Jesus.